83. By Gum! Life were Sparse: Bill Mitchell’s Yorkshire Dales Scrapbooks

This week, we’re back in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, looking at the scrapbooks created by local author Dr W.R. (Bill) Mitchell.   Bill has put these volumes together over many years, using his own photographs plus ephemera and letters, to create unique and very personal records of Dales lives and landscapes.  Here we see a page featuring a campaign to protect a Dales feature very important to Bill: the Settle-Carlisle Railway.

Settle-Carlisle Railway ephemera in Bill Mitchell scrapbook

William Reginald Mitchell was born in 1928 in Skipton, “gateway to the Dales”, to a family who worked in the textile industries and were strongly influenced by Methodism.   He began his writing career as a “cub reporter” on the Craven Herald in 1943.  After service in the Fleet Air Arm, he returned to the Herald in 1948; he was then asked by Harry J. Scott, editor of The Dalesman, to join the magazine’s staff.  Bill later became its editor.  He also edited a sister magazine, Cumbria, after The Dalesman took it on in 1951.  Bill retired from The Dalesman in 1988.

The Yorkshire Dales, from the first issue of the Dalesman magazine

The Yorkshire Dales, from the first issue of the Dalesman magazine

Alongside writing for and editing the two regional magazines, Bill has written over 200 books and numerous articles, not to mention giving thousands of talks to local groups, radio and television.  He often refers to the advice given him by Harry Scott when he first joined The Dalesman: “We are more interested in people than things”.  Bill took this advice to heart: his works are full of the stories and voices of Dalesfolk, their tough working lives and their distinctive humour.

The titles of Bill’s books range from ABC of Lakeland to You’re Only Old Once!  Not to mention Summat and Nowt, and By Gum!  Life were Sparse!  They include folk tales, popular histories and biographies of famous people and local characters: J.B. Priestley, Alfred Wainwright, the Keartons, the Brontës,  Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter, Dales farmer Hannah Hauxwell, cheesemaker Kit Calvert, TV vet James Herriot, naturalist Reginald Farrer and many more.

Cover of Men of the Settle-Carlisle, by WR Mitchell

Bill has written thirty books about the Settle-Carlisle Railway, exploring the legendary Ribblehead Viaduct, the building of the Railway, the lives of its workers and their families, and the stories of individual stations: Dent, Hellifield and Garsdale.

Cover of Birds of the Yorkshire Dales, by WR Mitchell

  Bill Mitchell is also a naturalist, hence many works about flora and fauna, especially bird-watching and the Sika deer of Bowland.  Alongside the stories of Yorkshire and the Lakes, there are also glimpses of the natural history of Scotland.

Cover of Mr Elgar and Dr Buck, by WR MitchellMusic is also important to Bill: his research into the friendship of Elgar with Dr Buck of Settle led to the discovery of correspondence and new manuscript music written by the composer.

W.R. 'Bill' MitchellThese wide interests are reflected in Bill’s scrapbooks and in his Archive at the University of Bradford. Our Bill Mitchell Archive came to the University of Bradford after Dr Mitchell was awarded an honorary degree in 1996.  The Archive includes the scrapbooks, letters relating to Bill’s work at The Dalesman, ephemera relating to the Keartons, and audiocassettes of interviews with Dalespeople.

These interviews on these audiocassettes are at the heart of an exciting project led by Settle Stories.  The project aims to make the interviews much more widely accessible, offering new knowledge about Dales lives and work and opportunities for learning and enjoyment for local people.  Find out more about Bill Mitchell and the project here.

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